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article imageMethane levels from Deepwater Horizon 'remain high'

By Tim Sandle     May 17, 2014 in Science
Microbial activities in the Gulf of Mexico suggests that gas-rich deepwater plumes following the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout overwhelmed methane-oxidizing bacterial species, leading to high concentrations of methane lasting for a very long time.
Deepwater Horizon was an ultra-deepwater, semi-submersible offshore oil drilling rig. In 2010 the oil rig failed and it was responsible for the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. At approximately 9:45 p.m. CDT, on 20 April 2010, high-pressure methane gas from the well expanded into the drilling riser and rose into the drilling rig, where it ignited and exploded, engulfing the platform. From this, the total discharge has since been estimated at 4.9 million barrels (210 million US gallons).
Although microorganisms played a useful role in helping to clean up the oil disaster, new evidence suggests that levels of methane remained very high after the incident because marine microbes in the Gulf of Mexico were less able to oxidize the large stores of methane released.
While gas-rich deepwater plumes were the most visual but short-lived feature of the spill’s aftermath, researchers noted that the overall concentrations of methane remained high. Scientists speculate that this was because the marine microbes that consume the compound were 'overloaded'. The data gathered highlights the risks to the ecosystem from human-made disasters.
The findings have been published in the journal Nature Geoscience, in a paper titled "The rise and fall of methanotrophy following a deepwater oil-well blowout."
More about Deepwater horizon, Methane, Bacteria
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